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Detroit Big Three outperform auto industry with strong sales in March

Detroit Big Three outperform auto industry with strong sales in March
1:00 am detroitnews.com

Automakers sold 1,452,946 cars and trucks in March, an increase of 3.4 percent year-over-year, offering further proof that the U.S. market is on the rebound.

It was industry’s best month in five years and translated into a seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate of 15.27 million vehicles, up from 14.14 million a year ago.

“I think the industry is recovering at a healthy pace with very little downside risk,” said Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence at automotive research site TrueCar.com. “The recovery is real and substantiated with even more room to grow.”

According to TrueCar, buyer incentives were down in March and the average price paid for a new vehicle

increased by 1.1 percent, to $31,087.

All three Detroit automakers outperformed the industry as a whole.

General Motors Co. posted the biggest gain of any domestic automaker and was one of the strongest performers overall. It sold 245,950 cars and trucks, 6.4 percent more than it did in March of 2012. As a result, GM’s share of the U.S. market increased from 16.4 percent to 16.9 percent.

It was GM’s best March in five years and its third straight month of higher retail sales and total market share, according to Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations.

During a call with analysts and reporters Tuesday, he said GM expects its retail market share to be up about half a percent for the quarter, to about 17.7 percent, compared to the same period in 2012, thanks in part to a big increase in demand for crossovers

. Sales of those vehicles were up 62 percent at GM last month.

“The success of mid utilities and full-size utilities and small utilities, we think it speaks to the economy getting stronger and American families getting back into the marketplace, too,” McNeil said, adding that fuel prices remaining relatively stable, encouraging sales of larger vehicles.

Cadillac was another bright spot for GM, with sales up 49.5 percent. “Cadillac is the fastest growing full-line luxury brand and in March two-thirds of our customers were new to the brand,” McNeil said.

March also was a good month for Ford Motor Co., whose sales increased 5.7 percent on volume of 235,643 vehicles. Ford’s market share increased from 15.9 percent a year ago to 16.2 percent last month.

Ford also reported strong crossover sales, but demand for the company’s pickups really drove the automaker’s sales increase. Its F-series remained the nation’s best-selling vehicle, with sales up 16.3 percent.

“Full-size pickups continue to outpace the industry,” said Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle in a conference call. “This represents a departure from what we have been seeing since the recession.”

Overall, demand for full-size pickups increased 14 percent last month, thanks in part to a strengthening housing market. And Ford said it has the capacity it needs to keep up.

“We have no capacity constraints for the foreseeable future,” said Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president of marketing, sales and service.

Chrysler

Group LLC reported a 5 percent increase. It sold 171,606 vehicles in March, enough to claim 11.8 percent of the market — a gain of two-tenths of a percentage point over March 2012.

“Chrysler Group has now achieved year-over-year sales gains in every month for the past three years,” said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales, in a statement. “Furthermore, in spite of limited inventory last month on some of our most popular models, we also managed to record our strongest monthly sales since December 2007.”

Honda Motor Co. was the biggest winner among the Big Six automakers, with sales up 7.1 percent, to 136,038.

But rival Nissan Motor Co. reported its best month ever, selling 137,726 vehicles and bumping Honda out of fifth-place in the U.S. market, with a 9.5 percent share to Honda’s 9.4 percent.

Toyota Motor Corp. managed a 1 percent increase, selling 205,342 cars and trucks. But its share of the market dropped from 14.5 percent to 14.1 percent.

Edmunds.com analyst Michelle Krebs called March “another very strong sales month.”

“American consumers appear to be quite confident in the economy, with snowstorms and sequesters not deterring them a bit,” she said in a statement.

“The story is the same as it has been: Pent-up demand from old vehicles on the road is unleashing, credit is readily available at cheap rates and to a wider array of consumers, and new products are resonating with consumers.”

bhoffman@detroitnews.com

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